Message from Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO, on the occasion of the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, 23 August 2006
Transmitted to AlterPresse on August 22, 2006
The International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition is an important occasion to remind the international community of the particularity of this tragedy, of its persisting consequences for modern societies, and of the role played by both enslaved Africans and abolitionists in bringing to an end this crime against humanity.
The decision of UNESCO’s General Conference in 1997 to proclaim 23 August â€œInternational Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolitionâ€ was made in response to the great interest and expectations raised by the launching of the UNESCO Slave Route Project in 1994. Aware that ignoring or concealing major historical events such as the slave trade and its abolition is in itself an obstacle to mutual understanding, international reconciliation and, consequently, peace, UNESCO’s Member States decided that an international day of commemoration was needed in order to increase awareness and understanding of this tragedy. As a symbol of the negation of the most basic human rights, the slave trade and slavery must be brought before the conscience of humanity. On account of the exploitation and extreme violence that characterized the slave trade, the monstrous arguments that sought to justify it and the paradoxical interactions to which it gave rise, this tragedy remains at the very centre of the burning issues of today’s world. Our relationship to this past forms part of the current debates on how to deal with painful memories, construct national identities and develop new forms of citizenship.
The International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition provides us with an occasion for common reflection, not only on the historical causes, the implications and the modes of operation of this tragedy, but also on the extraordinary intercultural dialogue among peoples it generated in Europe, the Americas, the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean â€” and indeed the whole world.
Thanks to the valuable advice and intellectual support of our partners, and in particular of the new International Scientific Committee of the Slave Route Project, UNESCO has been able to assist many countries in re-opening these tragic pages of their history and accomplishing the work of remembrance. We have also been able to help other States recognize the considerable contributions made by enslaved Africans to their host societies and to celebrate the exceptional cultural diversity that resulted from such contact. Today, several countries around the world such as France, Canada, Mauritius and a number of countries in the Caribbean have selected a commemorative date to revisit their history, and to heal the wounds of the past in order to build a better future.
Recognition of our ethical obligation to remember the victims of past injustice was strongly enhanced by the activities that took place during the 2004 International Year to Commemorate the Struggle against Slavery and its Abolition. The United Kingdom’s commemoration next year of the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave trade by the British Parliament will likewise reaffirm the vital need to educate new and future generations in a spirit of mutual understanding, respect and dialogue, promoting awareness and enjoyment of cultural diversity and through this helping to build the foundations of lasting peace.